Beginnings, grief

The Losing and Lost

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I walk swiftly out of a room and pause.

My finger tips twitch – like the tail of a cat, like typing on a phantom keyboard, like…

I walk back into the room and sit.

I

I

 

I was raised by my parents to question authority and institutions. Or rather – they modelled it, punk rock kids turned into uncomfortable adults, while as parents they encouraged me to play nicely in the world.  It’s taken me a few years into my own adult life to identify that sudden electric pulse of resistance that lights up my electrons every time I come across a rule, a form, a chain of command. I resist as a reflex.

You cannot argue with grief.  No matter how intrinsically counter-culture, no matter how self-designed a whimsical rogue you may be.  Cliches come, unbidden.  Everyone’s loss is unique, a matrix of circumstances between two people that create a singular chasm of said and unsaid, of regrets and triumphs, of questions unasked.  But grief visits in ways that are humbling in their universality.

It’s not necessarily what it looks like from the outside, per se, but the impulse.

Did you know there’s a ‘club’?  There’s a club.  They found me before I could recall whose battered membership card I have held for them on rough nights or intimate coffee dates.  Like battle-worn nurses in a triage ward, they stepped forward, hands on open wound, applying steady pressure and checking vitals.  I send texts.  “What’s happening to me?”  Mere minutes later they respond, always ready for the call: “You’ll see.”

I caught myself reading Hamlet on the beach.  Shakespeare, a true and steadfast friend.  Prose so visceral I had to put the book down and look at the thoughtless hot bodies parading on the beach, the exhausted, shrieking children wrestled by haggard parents, the fat seagulls feasting on abandoned fries. How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world.  But I’m not one for melancholy.  I rolled my eyes at the contrivance of turning to a famous dead father narrative for guidance.  I texted a member of the club, looking for a better role model.

I can’t decide if I look older or younger.

I make lists.  Is it a Virgo thing? I don’t know.  I’m an atheist and a brutal pragmatist, but these days I look up, out, anywhere but inside for some lists and some answers.  I buy plants and tend to their mysterious needs, watch their leaves reach for the sun, grow and fade.  I download an app that shows me the stars and crouch at my window looking for planets.  While trapped at work and spinning out, I make a list of things that I think I would like to do.

  • paint toenails
  • yoga video
  • read for 30 minutes

When I get home, I have forgotten making the list.  I lie on my carpeted floor and flip through Hamlet.

It keeps happening.  I find myself moving, full force, having just summoned the strength to stand and walk, with no idea where I’m going.  A perfect blankness of the mind as the body, a husk ruled by synapses, continues on its path.

Did I mention there are metaphors?  There are metaphors.

  • Plants: Helping living things to grow
  • Cleaning out belongings: letting go of the past
  • Astrology: finding a larger order to seemingly random events

There are more but they’re not coming to me right now.  Also, some of those are not metaphors.

For someone who makes a living from the things they say (either scripted and memorized, or painstakingly crafted) I’ve been wildly entertained by not being entirely sure what will come out of my mouth at any given moment.

I have a friend who I worked with years ago who would make jokes constantly about their late parent.  I found them funny and yet also inherently unnerving.  Never sure if they were an attempt at levity, a cry for acknowledgement, or a signal flare for help, I just made sure they knew I was listening, and laughed if I could.  Now in their shoes, I realize it’s a tough crowd out there. I am the orchestrator of the suspended drum fill, a creaky silence as my gallows humour swings confusingly in the social atmosphere.  A tip for future members of the club – making a dark joke and then yelling “but I’m fine!” is the worst possible way to end your set.

I was barely learning how to be, and now I have to do it all over again.  I don’t know anything anymore.  I don’t know how to write, how to make food, how to talk to people. Who to forgive, what to forget.  The script is blank.  The stage directions are crossed out.  I’m going from memory now.

I clutch old t-shirts.  I turn pictures face down.  I light candles.  I spend sleepless nights.  I cry to my counsellor.  I stay home.  I make lists.  Cliches follow me like the frame of a Hallmark movie, but I am one parent down and no longer afraid of being just like everyone else.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

I walk swiftly out of a room and pause.

I

I

I take a deep breath, and wait.

Beginnings, Inspiration

Upcoming Show: Bridge Mix

Tonight is opening night of my lastest project, Bridge Mix!  Just a few short weeks ago I received an email from the amazing Chelsea Haberlin from Itsazoo Productions inviting my company Delinquent Theatre to be part of Bridge Mix, an interactive site specific evening of theatre presented by Itsazoo and Enlightenment Theatre.  I had heard amazing things about last year’s Bridge Mix and was eager to get started on something creative right out of school, so I jumped on the opportunity.

 

My dear colleague Mishelle Cuttler and I, with help from cast members Ira Cooper, Brian Cochrane, Alexander Keurvorst, Britt MacLeod and Meaghan Chenosky created a 10 minute musical titled Parked: An Indie Rock Musical with Novelty Instruments as our contribution.  Delinquent Theatre is one of 9 indie theatre companies with an entry in Bridge Mix, and they are all fantastic!  I hope you will consider coming out.  For more details, head over to Delinquent Theatre’s website.  It’s been a blast, and I’d love to see you there!

Anxiety, Beginnings, Future, Inspiration

You Are Enough

In the first term of our first year of the BFA Acting Program at UBC, our teacher Stephen Heatley made us do an exercise. We sat along the wall of the studio, and one by one we were to walk in the door, stop in the middle of the room, spread our arms out, say our name with confidence and clarity, and walk out. Easy, right? Not exactly. We were at the beginning of our training, many of my classmates had just moved to Vancouver or moved out for the first time, and we were scared. Really scared. As we went up one by one, our movements told the story of our defence mechanisms. Some people used comedy, taking up a funny walk, a smirk to cover up the nervousness. Some people seemed aggressive, daring you to question them. Some people shook, looking at the floor, mumbling their name. Me? I ended up in hysterics (first laughing, then crying) and Stephen had to literally hold my hand to get me in the door and across the room. How is it that people who want to make a living performing in front of hundreds of people couldn’t simply introduce themselves in front of a dozen of their peers?

The lesson for the day was “You Are Enough” – one of Stephen’s famous ‘samplers’ for the first year BFA Actors.  The idea behind the exercise was to trust ourselves to be enough – no need for showboating, for nerves, or for an attack – just to walk in, breathe, say your name and leave and trust that simply being everything you are, just as you are, is enough.  That day revealed to everyone their ways of protecting themselves from revealing that truth, and started us on the road to uncovering the root of that deep-seated feeling we all have – that we are somehow inadequate.  In our chosen profession, we are forced to confront these feelings virtually on a daily basis, and finding security in oneself is vital to producing vulnerable, truthful work.  In the three years since we did that exercise all of us, as actors and just as twenty-somethings, have come a long way to sorting out that puzzle, to saying our names with confidence and bringing that sense of self to our work.  “You Are Enough” has become a favorite phrase in our group – sometimes as a punchline when someone does something dumb (“Aww, don’t worry, you are enough”) or as a frantic mantra when facing a stressful situation.   That nerve-wracking day in the studio feels far, far away now, and the lesson just a memory.

But now, facing the ‘real world’, I am suddenly keenly aware of its value.  I’ve been looking at the amazing season announcements and seeing the parts I dream of playing, and thinking “why would they ever choose me?”  It’s a terrifying prospect, knowing you are a little, nervous fish in a big pond now.  It’s time to start pursuing those dream gigs, and I just spent a few hours preparing my submissions, packing glossy photos of me looking oh-so-happy and chipper into envelopes, imagining them lost in a stack of hundreds of photos of happy-looking people all hoping for the same thing as me.  The only thing I can do is hang on to that lesson from first year – I am enough.  There are many talented actors out there, but I remind myself that I am unique in my experiences, my point of view, my humor and my life.  And that’s just the thing – whether you have more experience or less, look the part or not, none of us have an equal in our ability to tell a story.  Whether you’re up against stiff competition, whether you get the part or not, whether the doors open up for you or slam in your face, you must know deep down that you are enough.  Somehow, as an artist, you must believe that your voice is worth hearing.  As my class prepares to join the ‘real world’, I feel like we’re all back to being those shaky kids in the studio again.  I’m grateful though, to have a mantra to keep in my heart as we walk out and introduce ourselves.  Thank you, Stephen.